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Darrell Steinberg, the president pro tem of the state Senate, apologized to the public and press Monday for cutting off television access to a Senate hearing on four ballot measures last week.

"I want to apologize to the press and public," Steinberg told reporters at a hastily called news conference outside the Senate chambers. "This was a mistake and it won't happen again."

Wednesday's hearing of the Senate Finance and Governance Committee was called - as required by law - to air pro and con arguments and factual information about four November ballot measures dealing with taxes and the budget, Propositions 30, 31, 38 and 39.

California Channel, a cable television channel that broadcasts legislative sessions and hearings and other public affairs material, scheduled the hearing for a telecast, but just before the hearing was to begin, an unnamed Senate staffer ordered that it not be aired.

Initially, Steinberg's spokesman said the cutoff was aimed at preventing material from the hearing to be used in campaign commercials. One of those who spoke, Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, cited Senate staff raises in his argument against Proposition 30, a sales and income tax increase that Gov. Jerry Brown is sponsoring and Steinberg strongly supports.

However, last Friday, the committee's chairwoman, Davis Democrat Lois Wolk, criticized the blackout in a public statement. The action had embarrassed her because she had begun the hearing with a statement expressing hope that it would help voters reach a reasoned decision on the four measures.

The action also became the subject of much media attention, including radio talk shows, during the weekend.

"I pride myself on transparency," Steinberg said Monday, noting that he holds weekly sessions with reporters on pending legislative issues.

The original rationale for the blackout "wasn't a good reason," he said, adding, "When you mess up, you mess up. I'm sorry and it won't happen again."


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